It’s Clerks meets Assault On Precinct 13. It’s Intruder meets The Warriors. It’s Dawn of the Dead meets Rosemary’s Baby. It’s none of those things because it’s altogether too original to be classified that easily. I’m talking about The Night Stockers by Triana and Harding, a true masterpiece of absurdity and gore. Freshway is struggling now that Devil’s Food has opened up across the road, stealing customers as well as some of the staff. In a desperate, albeit transparently futile, attempt to combat the erosion of the bottom line, Todd demands that most of this Freshway staff work an unexpected overnight shift for deep cleaning and stocking. A miserable night is soon to become altogether worse as the Freshway staff learns that competition between grocery stores can not only be fierce, it can be deadly. It stands to reason something like that would have to happen when the Devil’s Food chain is owned and operated by Satan. Fueled by a desire to live up to the expectation of his dark lord–and his petty impulse to seek vengeance against the Freshway manager who helped drive him to the dark embrace of Devil’s Food–Desmond decides he and his staff will be destroying the competition. Of course, even with Satan on his side, Desmond and his crew of miscreants might have a bit more on their plate than he could anticipate. Equal parts an homage to death metal of the late 80s and early 90s and the early days of splatterpunk horror, the authors create a world that feels entirely real so that they can do the most unreal and unspeakable things to the people populating that world. Drawing from their own experiences working in retail during that period as well as their lasting appreciation for the music that finds itself repeatedly referenced throughout the narrative, Triana and Harding successfully bring the world of Freshway to life–for the express purpose of converting it into a funhouse of death and dismemberment. Filled to the brim with graphic sex and violence, often in tandem, The Night Stockers becomes a barrage of viscera and perverse humor that remains constant from the first to the final page.
The release of Kristopher Triana’s And the Devil Cried is one of those examples of strangely serendipitous timing. It serves as an odd juxtaposition with Stephen King’s Billy Summers. Both stories are about men who became involved with organized crime after committing a murder during their youth and enlisting with the military. That is, of course, where the similarities end, as the characters themselves couldn’t be more different. Triana excels in crafting unlikeable characters. His true skill is in developing these characters who manage to be entirely captivating precisely because of how unlikeable they are. Jackie is a prime example of that. Committing his first murder at the age of 17 for no better reason than greed and bitterness over the good fortune of the victim, Jackie never strives to be a better person. After his time in the Army, Jackie never adjusts to civilian life, and he gets arrested for an attempted armed robbery. The story picks up as he’s being released and reacquainting himself with bad people he met while on the inside. As the story unfolds, you find yourself wishing he’d never been released, but there wouldn’t be much of a book if that were the case. Misogynistic, abusive, sexist, violent, bigoted, and fundamentally heartless, there’s not much about Jackie that resembles a human being, and that’s what makes him an excellent protagonist for this particular story. While this isn’t one of Triana’s extreme horror or splatterpunk tales, he brings those sensibilities to the pulp crime genre with a character so devoid of decency that he’s almost a caricature of what one might expect a hardened criminal to be. There are components of this story that are difficult to read. I’d suggest those are notably Jackie’s treatment of homosexuals in prison and his unabashed fixation on young girls, but it’s worth sticking it out to the end. Triana showcases a talent for writing hardboiled pulp crime that transcends the genre conventions. It’s a little bit Scarface, a little bit The Godfather, and all Triana. While it’s not my favorite of his books, it’s well worth reading and it displays a side of Triana as an author that I’d never witnessed previously. It’s encouraging to see him stepping outside of his comfort zone and exploring new ground, and that makes me curious about what he’ll have in store for us next.
Growing Dark truly showcases the eclectic range Triana is capable of in a way a reader would otherwise only discover if they took the time to read half a dozen books. Running the gamut from intense cosmic horror to something that could be considered kid-friendly, there’s no doubt any lover of dark fiction will find something to love in this short collection. From the Storms, A Daughter kicks everything off, sharing the story of a town that’s been going through hard times, and they’re only getting harder as the region gets flooded. First responders in boats are struggling to locate stragglers to take them to safety, but what they find instead is evidence that there’s more to fear than the water. Eaters is a post-apocalyptic excursion into the remnants of the old world, as a small party of hunters is clearing the area of zombies. As with most tales like that, things don’t go smoothly. Triana manages to bring some originality to the topic, and an ending that readers/listeners are unlikely to see coming. Growing Dark is a coming-of-age tale gone wrong, as a farm boy surrounded by sickness and decay desperately wants to prove to his father that he can be a man. Sometimes being a man involves making some hard choices, and sometimes they’ll be bad choices as well. Reunion is an insightful story of childhood regrets and how the mistakes we make can haunt us well into adulthood, altering the courses we travel and where we ultimately end up. Before the Boogeymen Come was the most surprising inclusion in this collection. Triana entertains readers as he breathes life into the monsters who plague the imaginations of young children before media and experience provide new monsters to replace the old. The Bone Orchard is a heartbreaking western tale that could be read, depending on the reader’s perspective, as being either pro-life or pro-choice in its message. An old shootist returns to an old haunt and old love, only to discover there’s a sinister secret behind keeping the brothel running smoothly. Soon There’ll Be Leaves is a character study framed by multiple horrors, the most potent of which being reflection on a life not well-lived and the looming loss of family. Returning to a place he’d sooner never see again, our protagonist is approached by an old flame who proves the adage that one can never go home again, as an attempted affair takes an unforeseen twist. Video Express is a nostalgic exploration of the video rental stores of our youth and condemnation of how we quickly turned our back on the family-run establishments in favor of places where we could easily snag the newest titles. Giving from the Bottom is another character study, this time focused on the horrors of everyday life and the gradual erosion of both one’s ability to care and one’s will to live when nothing seems to turn out as expected. The collection ends with the strangely epic Legends, a vision of an afterlife that is not at all what one might expect. In Triana’s captivating narrative, we discover that the dead–if they’re famous or infamous enough–become eidolons of a sort. Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin come together as paragons of what generations of moviegoers and fans imagined them to be, and as such, they are bestowed with purpose and power to protect the world from infernal entities who may have similarly familiar faces. For me, Legends was the best of the whole collection, providing a glimpse into a world I could see the author fleshing out into a much longer piece. The narrations provided by Dani George, John Wayne Comunale, and Kristopher Triana himself were the best of the bunch. Triana especially did an excellent job of providing his characters with distinctive voices, and in the case of Before the Boogeymen Come a level of caricature that was enjoyable. The additional narrators, Michael Zapcic, Thomas Mumme, Jennifer Mumme, and Kevin McGuire were satisfying as well, just not as memorable as those provided by the three previously mentioned.
Gateway is vastly different from a lot of what one might expect from Kristopher Triana. The reader isn’t going to find the sort of vividly depicted gore and violence one frequently associates with Triana’s material. I have to say they’ll be missing out if they don’t dive into this story because they’re disappointed about the lack of brightly splashing gore and viscera in these few pages. Franco Torres is a human trafficker who specializes in albinos, whether for sex trafficking or harvesting purposes. He’s a monster preying on superstitions and prejudice to accumulate wealth, and he’s exceptionally successful at it. When a stunning, ethereal albino woman arrives at a party he’s attending, Torres can’t help but introduce himself to The Gateway. Will his deepest wishes and dreams come true at the hands of this mysterious woman? What will be the cost? I will be eagerly anticipating the upcoming novel, The Ivory Dealer, that emerged from this short story. Triana successfully baited the hook with this one, leaving the reader with questions that desperately need answering.
This title is available as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com for October of 2021. You can snag this one for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the app to your mobile device. The link is below:
If you’ve ever asked yourself what American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman would be like if he were a teenage girl living in the current age as opposed to Wall Street of the 1980s, Full Brutal by Kristopher Triana is the book for you. I’m only joking a little bit with that introduction because–much like Ellis’s most popular character–Kim is pretty, popular, and superficially passing as being not only normal but successful and even a role model of sorts. This is, of course, a facade. As the story unfolds, Kim goes from being a calculating, manipulative sociopath dwelling on suicide–as much out of boredom and a desire to shock/stun the people who believe they’re close to her as very real depression over the fact that nothing brings her any sort of pleasure in life–to a cold-blooded monster. The turning point seems to be that pivotal decision in many teenager’s lives, whether they should have sex and with whom. Developing a fixation on serial killers as well as torture-porn movies (and actual pornography featuring torture) and finding a spark of pleasure in these things, it’s no real surprise that everything goes dark and brutal from there. She determines her first time should be with someone she has to break down and degrade to get there, and she sets her sights on her sex-ed teacher. When sex itself turns out to be less than the life-changing experience she was hoping for, instead of letting it depress her further, she finds entirely new ways to get herself off. Destroying lives, creating turmoil that spreads everywhere around her, and always seeking an even greater thrill, Kim finally discovers that catharsis she was desperately searching for. As she decides to go “full brutal” everything continues getting worse for those surrounding her. Dani George provides fantastic narration that captures the coldness and cruelty of Kim as well as breathing life into the vapid superficiality of her peers and friends–if one could consider these people to be either of those things. I’m torn, because I appreciate the way this book turns the psychopathic killer trope on its head in a sense, transitioning the usual victim of these sorts of stories into the perpetrator. The skillful storytelling is the same as I’ve come to expect from Triana, along with the depravity and attention to gritty, unsettling details. Those things are fantastic elements. On the other hand, I feel like Kim is sort of an exaggerated, almost sexist caricature of the sort of girls all rape-culture assholes like to pretend are all over the place. You surely know what I mean if you’ve bothered to torture yourself by reading incel screeds and the like. To a certain sort of guy, the world is populated by girls/women who will manipulate, dominate, and take what they want at any cost. For that sort of person, all girls are a stone’s throw from threatening to cry rape if they aren’t getting everything they want, or just because it’s funny to ruin someone’s life. To guys like that, most (if not all) girls are secretly very much like Kim…excepting the murderous streak. In that sense, I find the character and the story to be a bit problematic in the same way I would if the protagonist were a caricature of the mythical “welfare queen” from the Reagan era…as it sort of breathes life into an ignominious stereotype that should be allowed to die the off-screen death it deserves. Taking the good with the bad, I still can’t help but recommend this book to anyone who enjoys extreme horror. The best sort of horror is the kind that makes you uncomfortable and forces you to examine things you’d rather ignore, and that’s precisely what you get with Full Brutal.